Zimbabwe: Almost 3,000 farmers to stop work

JOHANNESBURG, 24 June (IRIN) - From 25 June it will be a criminal offence for about half of Zimbabwe's commercial farmers to continue farming.
Under the country's Land Acquisition Act, farmers who have received a "Section 8" - a final notice to cease farming - will have to prepare to leave their land, their crops and their cattle.

Their farms will become government property and they will have 45 days to wind up their affairs and leave.

In terms of President Robert Mugabe's land resettlement programme, the land will then be redistributed among the landless.

It is not immediately clear who will step in to continue farming. The government's move comes amid predictions that up to six million people in Zimbabwe will face food shortages by next year due to erratic weather and the land reform programme.

If the 2,900 commercial farmers served a Section 8 disobey orders to stop farming, they face a fine of Zim $20,000 (US $373)or two years in prison, or both.

Jenni Williams, spokeswoman for the Commercial Farmers Union (CFU) said many farmers had applied to their district administrators for an extension to the deadline. Few had succeeded, and it appeared that some planned to defy orders and continue farming.

"They have cattle to look after and 22,000 hectares of wheat in the ground. They have a duty as Zimbabweans to feed their fellow Zimbabweans and they contribute to 15 percent of the GDP," she said.

Williams estimated that about 300,000 farmworkers would have to stop work and this would have a knock-on effect on about 1.5 million family members and dependents.

Lawyer Adrian de Bourbon explained that farmers with a Section 8 notice couldn't ask workers to continue farming on their behalf. "It would still be an offence," he said.

De Bourbon, who represents a number of commercial farmers, said very few had received compensation even though they are entitled to it.

They are also expected to pay retrenchment packages to farm workers in accordance with labour regulations. But, said De Bourbon, "if they can't sell their cattle or their crops, they can't pay."

The CFU said up to 27 percent of farm title deed owners were not producing anything due to enforced shut-downs and land invasions.

"Conversely, operations are either wholly or partially continuing on 73 percent of title deeds demonstrating the resilience of Zimbabwean commercial farmers. The highest shut down rate of 39 percent is in Mashonaland Central and the lowest shut down rate of 12 percent is in Manicaland," the CFU said.

The CFU estimated that the entire commercial farming sector consists of 11.2 million hectares and about 93 percent had been identified for resettlement. About 50 to 60 percent of the commercial farmers in the CFU had received Section 8 orders.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reported that the European Union had allocated US $5.9 million to provide food aid for children and rural workers in Zimbabwe.

Link to the Land Acquisition Act: http://www.kubatana.net/docs/legislation/landacqact020510.rtf


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